BY STANLEY GOLDBERG, Guest Columnist

Photo courtesy of tranquilshores.org
Photo courtesy of tranquilshores.org

Stanley Goldberg is a guest columnist for The Michigan Journal. Stanley’s views do not necessarily reflect those of The Journal.

My first emphasis must be how grateful and blessed I feel to be an American. When I think of all the citizens of the world who are hoping to live in the United States, I know that we must never forget the freedoms, opportunities and successes that we have in living here. I am reminded of this in various ways.

I am a native-born American. Both of my parents came to this country when they were young. My mother emigrated from Poland when she was about 12. My father came here from Lithuania when he was approximately 16. They both immigrated with their families after World War I. Each remembers living through the war and the hardships their families endured. For my mother, this included vivid memories of her father and other men being forcibly taken away at gunpoint into the army without any knowledge of their whereabouts for several years. For my father, there was extreme religious prejudice requiring the family to move to another part of the country within 48 hours by direct order of the Czar.

My parents were very fortunate in the opportunities they could pursue. Often it is reported that the second generation achieves upward mobility by virtue of achieving higher education. For my parents coming to this country at an early age, they enrolled in  school where they each lived. For my mother, this was in Kingston, New York and for my father this was in Detroit, Michigan. They each continued their education after high school by going to college and then both obtained a master’s degree in social work. This obviously gave each of them the ability to pursue a meaningful job and earn a decent salary.

My parents met and married while working at the same social work agency in New York City. After moving to Detroit, my siblings and I went through Detroit Public Schools for an excellent education. The three of us then went to Wayne State University at different times and then pursued graduate degrees. Because of the emphasis on education so valued by my parents, this became a guiding direction for me.

I was fortunate in that my father wrote a lengthy life journal detailing his experiences. This began with his first memories of living in Lithuania and its hardships there and he continued to chronicle his life until his senior years. When one can read firsthand family accounts of life prior to the United States, it certainly reinforces one’s perspective regarding the blessings of being a citizen here.

I live in a community where there are a substantial number of families who have immigrated to the United States. As a result, I am reminded once again of the universal quest for a safe and secure place in which to raise one’s family and why they want to come here.

Similarly, I see this when I attend classes at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. There are students who have come to this country from other places and like many generations before them, and pursue education as a path to success.

My volunteer work affords me another opportunity to directly feel the blessings of American life. I volunteer once per week at the Canton, Michigan library working with individuals who have come to this country at various times and want to study English. Some are here for a temporary period while others are here permanently. Their appreciation of life in the United States is a beautiful statement. They are such a friendly group and it is a joy to be with them. One of our weekly group lessons made me realize how even common matters are to be treasured. We were to discuss family history and I asked them to bring in family photos, including perhaps a wedding picture. One of our group members who came here from a communist country said he and his wife have no wedding pictures. He informed me that under their system when they got married many years ago, they were not allowed to take such photographs. Freedom happens in simple ways that we may not always consider.

The annual Memorial Day holiday in May and July 4 serve as constant reminders to Americans of all of our fortunes in living in the United States. I relish these holidays. In addition, the circumstances I have identified in this brief article provide me with a deeper appreciation and joy for the blessings of being a citizen of this country.